Bill Pullman Interview NOBEL SON

     December 4, 2008

Written by Heather Huntington

The press day for Nobel Son was an unusual one, to say the least. None of the usual cushy hotel rooms for us; this one was held in an open soundstage-type building on a studio lot (evidently, they wanted to use the Mini Coopers, which feature prominently in the film, for the TV camera set ups, and therefore needed large warehouse-y space to accommodate).

All of that would be fine, but for the fact that it was an uncommonly cold day. Being Angelenos, we’re all unused to that to begin with. Couple that with the fact that we were expecting to be inside, and no one had bundled up to fight the raw, foggy air that was drifting into the giant bays and enveloping us. Oh, and then the noise. Did I mention the noise? There were giant trucks thundering around the lot, and basically parking directly by our stage and making their best attempt at sounding like a construction crew. In short, it was not the best atmosphere for a junket.

However, Bill Pullman, who plays the noir-ish detective Max Mariner in Nobel Son, was completely game. He is every bit as delightful and nice as you would expect him to be, and as you can see, was actually actively worried about us being too cold during the junket. He is an absolutely lovely guy. And funny. You will also note he mentions that Eliza Dushku says she has a crush on him at the end of our interview; she verified this fact—with gusto—when we talked to her shortly thereafter.

Nobel Son opens in select theaters in December 5.

Question: We have the loud room, also.


We have the warm corner of the warehouse. Unfortunately not where you’re sitting.

PULLMAN: Man, aren’t you guys all smart that you all brought coats. But you didn’t.

I’m the dumb one.

PULLMAN: Well, you know, they could get you a coat.

They could get you a coat. We’re not important.

PULLMAN: No! They could get you a coat! We could share this coat. I’ll go half of the interview, then you get it the other half.

That’s very generous of you. I think I’ll soldier through it, though. Now, did you make this before you made Bottle..Shock?

PULLMAN: Yeah, Bottle Shock. Yeah.

It’s just so different. We did the junket for Bottle Shock and then I see this and I go, ‘I can’t believe this is the same people who made those movies.’

PULLMAN: Aren’t titles funny? ‘Cuz did you start to say Bottle Rocket?

I was going to say Bottle Rocket, and I’ve said it before.

PULLMAN: Isn’t that funny? Sometimes there’s like a little virus in a title. And Nobel Son has that, too, because you want to say “noble son,” but you’ve got to do a little check.

But isn’t that just a play on words?

PULLMAN: Play on words, yeah. Yeah.

Isn’t that just an intentional pun?

PULLMAN: Randy [Miller] is so glad that you’re saying that. I know there were people that were saying, ‘That’s a terrible title.’ And he goes, ‘No. It’s a smart title.’

It is. It captures everything, I think.

PULLMAN: Do you want to know what the other title that they were trying to get him to do?

Of course we do.

PULLMAN: “Spanked.”

Uh. Oh.

PULLMAN: Like that title! Like the idea!

Seems like a different movie, to me. Maybe, like, the sequel to Secretary.

PULLMAN: Yeah. Yeah. It’s supposed—I think they were trying to push it towards another title, like a Guy Ritchie type title or… And I think that’s what they were—

That makes sense.

PULLMAN: You know how they looked at… ride his coattails.

How did you get to know Randy? Was this the first film that you’d done with him? Did you know him before?

PULLMAN: No, I didn’t know him before. He came out of the blue in the way that you take for granted at a certain point. These things are always like, ‘What’s going to go on now? I don’t know.’ And somebody will say, ‘Oh this guy, you’ve got to go meet him. He’s got a part for ya.’ And I didn’t know about the… I think I was always dragging my heels on things, and I was thinking, ‘I don’t know, maybe, maybe not.’ But then I met him and I was very intrigued by how they were doing it all out of their house in Pasadena. And then I got intrigued by the fact that it was set in Pasadena and that a lot of it is about his life. And I’ve always though that LA—I’m not from LA, but I like all these movies about LA. There’s a whole spectrum of LA Confidential and that kind of noir-ish side of it and everything. And then there’s this, to me this movie is these people that are kind of out of their depth, doing things out of desperation, and there’s a side of LA that feels like a desert town, you know? It’s a desert town, still. It’s a town, you know? I kind of got hooked about my character being that kind of—LA is kind of supposed to be a big city, but there’s times where it feels like it’s all a charade and we’re still a desert town not far away from Vegas, and all those other artificial put water down and grow lawns and all of a sudden this is a city, a world class city. But it was just dust not long ago. So that’s kind of where I got hooked, I think.

More than your character? You got more hooked on the story and the place?

PULLMAN: Yeah. I liked the character. And Randy was like, ‘yeah yeah’ and I kind of had a good time with the costumer coming up with it all. Randy was collaborative, and I wanted to see how they would do the whole thing. It was kind of the character and the movie, I guess.

Did you get a lot of input in your character? Ad lib?

PULLMAN: I was trying to think whether there was… there’s been other movies that changed a lot more than this one did. There was in every scene subtle adjustments and things that he was interested in. God, it was two years ago now. There was one scene that I think he added, but I can’t remember which one it was.

You had a nice chemistry with all the people that you worked with. Is it nice to come back and work opposite the same people again?

PULLMAN: Well, this was the first time I’d been around Alan [Rickman], working with him. I knew him. He did on Broadway in 2002, he did Private Lives and I was doing a play on Broadway the same time—

[truck noise becomes very loud]

So, it’s cold, there’s no real food, and now, noise. (laughs)

You know, on Bottle Shock, we got wine.

PULLMAN: This is probably better for this movie, this kind of back of the warehouse…

So you were working on Broadway…

PULLMAN: Broadway, and then that way, Broadway is kind of great that way where people will tend to go to each other’s shows on the nights off. He and Lindsay Duncan, there’s only like one night off where you have a Monday night show and other actors will come to it.

And what show were you doing?

PULLMAN: I was doing The Goat, which was a play by Edward Albee. It was great to meet him there and great to see him again on this, so that by the time we were doing Bottle Shock, we had a lot of things in common.

[truck noise crescendos with a huge thud]

I think that was a dead body that just fell.

That was a big dead body. That was a car.

PULLMAN: Boom! That guy was built like an elephant! Took a lot to get him down, but I think The Bonnie Hunt Show, they all came out and just laced him with drugs and then finally put a big rope around him and pulled him down. The drama going on all around us. (laughs)

This is the most entertaining junket we’ve done in a long time. So what is Alan like to work with? Does he go in and out of character?

PULLMAN: He’s a very deliberate person. His sense of control is strong. I think he wants to be stable. With Bottle Shock, I thought, he gets engaged in a movie like this the same way I do, where you want to say let’s all share what we can, and he had some great ideas and some great influence in Bottle Shock—his character and how it’s shaped and everything. And I really felt that helped the movie a lot. This one, I’m not sure because he was quite involved with them—

[more truck noise]

This must be all the elephant guy’s paraphernalia. This is like his cell phone, which had to be big too. Really. Man. Ship it out! Another junket! Load it! Get the truck backed up! Pile it on! Ship it out! God! Man!

How much could happen in one morning? This is insane. This must be why they usually do it at the Four Seasons.

PULLMAN: Yeah. Yeah. Well, we’d close the door, but the lighting is so bad, we’d either have better protection from sound or terrible lighting.

Your character brags about being able to cook scrambled eggs and toast. You remember that scene? But from my perspective, he just sticks in the toast and pulls the lever down. Was there any secret beyond that, or was he just coming up with lines to hit on Mary’s [Steenburgen’s] character?

PULLMAN: Well yeah. I think it’s like that moment when people say, ‘Bill, do you cook?’ And my wife will say, ‘Yeah. He’s really good at breakfasts!’ And I know that it’s really just me cracking eggs, putting them in the frying pan. But that was something that I bonded with, and I think I might have helped with those lines because I have a reputation of cooking breakfasts. A lot of it is in the sell. Like, how do you get a fried egg to be more distinguished than another fried egg? And I have found the way to do it, where I like to have a really crispy bottom and a really soft top. There’s a trick to that, which is patience and really low heat for a long time. It may not seem that amazing to you right now, but try it.

I’m flabbergasted. It actually sounds a little too complicated for me, but I’ll give it a shot. Oh, they’re coming back.

PULLMAN: Oh yeah. They’ve got the other side to do. Looking good. Looney bins.

Have any of the cast tried your cooking?

PULLMAN: No they didn’t. I’ve cooked for… that’s a very handy skill, breakfasts, I think because you want to get out a lot of different things. I also do French toast in a different way.

[another huge thud, more giggling]

You’ve done a lot of big films, and these are smaller independent films. Is it more interesting for you to do these because there’s not so much time to think about the character? Do you find that maybe more comes up to the surface that surprises you when do you do something like this?

PULLMAN: I think there is… the tone of is kind of different than in a highly, highly marketed commercial studio movie. There’s an eccentricity about it that if you’re looking to make a big lot of money off a movie, that stuff gets taken out pretty quick because it’s either going to confuse people, they don’t know the product that they’re sampling, that kind of talk.

This has weird jags in it, and I always want to know how do you make that part of the character? I did The Bonnie Hunt Show yesterday and had a clip from it with me and Shawn Hatosy and I say something about ‘history repeats itself’ in an odd moment. How does that part of this warning to him—it’s the kind of line that would be cut from another thing, and you’re curious to see how it would work.

I think you’re in an environment where you’re going faster, but the process of how you get to it is, I think… you do the same work. It’s the same work. You’re life is on the line. It’s not like, ‘Oh I’m going to do half the job because I’m getting half the money.’ You’re thinking, ‘That was embarrassing today. That was so embarrassing! I can’t have another day like that!’ You’re going through the same rigors because you’re a trained animal and you’re used to giving it all. It is a moment where I think, ‘God, I never thought I’d have to do the junket on this movie.’ (laughs)

And here you are.

PULLMAN: Believe me, I tried to get out of it. Because I think this movie really centers on Alan and all those other people. And I enjoy our part of it, and then I realized, ‘Okay, this is the collective. This is like Cassavetes movies where you were Ben Gazzara or Peter Falk or Gena Rowlands, and whether you had the lead this one or the lead next one, you’re part of the collective.’ That’s the important thing I had to remember when I was thinking, ‘God.’ I had just been in Brazil shooting a movie for a long time and I was looking to get home and I was looking to have time to catch back up in my life, and why am I doing this stuff now? I had to remember—

It’s a nice role, though. It adds dimension to the film. I think.

PULLMAN: Oh good. I’m going to use that all day long. (laughs)

What was it like working with Eliza [Dushku] this time around? You had a scene with her where she was quite funny giving her testimony on the main character. Were you in any of the antics? Did you come up with any of it with her on that? Did you rehearse?

PULLMAN: We had a thing in life. She’s now in a different place because we’ve known each other for a long time, and maybe I’m talking out of school, but she had this huge respect for me and she’s the kind of person that will say, ‘I had the biggest crush on Bill Pullman!’ And that makes me feel very awkward because it always feels like, what do you do with that? It’s kind of like, out there, but it’s… it doesn’t, I don’t know, quite—and that’s exactly what that scene was about, is her being very demonstrative in ways that I can’t compute. I thought this is kind of good the way life and this scene and the characters’ relationship happens here. That space I also thought was brilliant production design of her studio and everything and the creativity of that place and everything. That felt so foreign to my character to be inside that room. We shot that in the old Herald Tribune building. Now it’s all converted. That was one of the last movies that was shot in there when it was still this really kind of crazy place with all these ghosts.

Did she actually tell you that she had a crush on you years before?

PULLMAN: I’m not singling myself out. I think she says this probably a lot! (laughs) And she’s kinda high strung, so I think she’s very, I think she’s an incredibly interesting girl. I really like her a lot. But it’s like another species that I don’t quite, I’m kind of in marvel of. She has a great fan base, too. Sci-fi geeks love her and she’s kind of this pin-up thing, but she’s got a lot of other things that are firing around. I like the craziness of her energy a lot. I didn’t really have a scene with her on Bottle Shock. She was in the bar, but…

It’s like they took the whole cast from this and said, ‘Let’s do this film now’

PULLMAN: Yeah, which is pretty rare. It’s pretty rare. People get…oh they shoot the movie. For actors, oh you think it’s nice to be used again. But you shoot the movie and then they’re editing with your mug there for another year. They want to sign up for another run with ya? It’s amazing that they’re like that, these filmmakers.

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